On a train somewhere during a long trip to the United States, our Sheffield United interviewee Dave Eyre* will try to find wifi access to events at the Stadium of Light. He predicts an uneventful season for both clubs, a win on Saturday for the Blades. United are an interesting club and Dave, an academic and folk music broadcaster, is an interesting man. These are fascinating and thought-provoking responses to the Salut! Sunderland questions though we can surely quarrel with his assertion that the United-Wednesday rivalry is more intense than Sunderland-Newcastle …
Salut! Sunderland: So how will Sheffield United do on their return to the second tier and can they ever return to the top?
Dave Eyre: I expect this year to be one of consolidation. It’s taken a while – six years – to get back into this division. Looking at the money being spent by some clubs we will not be competing via the transfer stakes and buying our way further up. But we have a great academy with some superb prospects and if Huddersfield can do it why not? We have a history as a First Division/Premiership club; brilliant facilities ready for the Premier League; and the first ever goal scored in the Premier League was at Bramall Lane – Brian Deane against Manchester United. We won 2-1.
Chris Wilder had a long but unspectacular playing career. But do you see him as a top quality manager???
Always difficult to tell what any manager will do. Judging by his progress so far his chances must be good. He learnt his trade in the lower leagues and he has been on an upward curve ever since. At Northampton where he had to cope with severe financial problems off the field, he succeeded in winning promotion. At Bramall Lane where the expectations are high he has won the hearts of the fans. 199 points in the last two years is good going and few other managers have ever achieved that, let alone with two different teams. A number of great managers have had unspectacular careers, some great players have tried and failed. The local saying is IWWT – In Wilder We Trust.
Interesting ownership partnership – solid Sheffield businessman and Saudi prince known for his love of American football. How does it work in practice?
I am not privy to what goes on behind the scenes – the prince seems to keep a low profile. He came with a reputation as a man into sport, always a good start. I doubt we will see many Saudi millions coming or way until we have consolidated at Championship level at least. McCabe has pumped around £80 million into the club with some return and some very valuable real estate out of it – but he is a huge fan and was born just at the back of the Kop. Few clubs these days have a local owner like that.
Our recent Sheff Wed interviewee gleefully predicted relegation for you. A serious risk or just partisan nonsense?
This is one where time will tell and it’s a bit early I feel. (For both clubs incidentally). If he is a proper Wednesdayite he will rarely have seen us play so will have no idea just how good we were last year. 100 points and 93 goals tell a great story.
Is it really true, as a survey suggested, that Blades fans are the most obsessed in the country?
I doubt it though they are very passionate. We got brilliant crowds when last in the Premier League averaging over 30,000. A lot of teams currently in the Premier League cannot get that into their stadiums. We had a pre-season game this year aganst Malaga in an obscure ground (Malaga’s training ground at Coin). Despite the cost at the height of the holiday season about 200 booked flights. And we have a great song that no one has ever stolen!
On the darker side of football, was the trouble after the Boro match an aberration or a sign that the ugly face of the game hasn’t gone away?
I wholeheartedly condemn any form of violence and what happened seems to have been a bit of a disgrace. We had little trouble last year and I thought we had got rid of any reputation we might have had. However despite the reports of 200 fighting and plenty of police around, my understanding is there were only five arrests and two of those arrested were from Middlesbrough. I would imagine that is around what they get in a normal Saturday night in Middlesbrough. It would be for Sheffield.
Who are the players who can cause problems in the Championship and where does your team cry out for strengthening?
Sharpe has had plenty of Championship experience and will always score goals nowadays. Clarke also, though he may not last the season as centre-forward. But they both lack a lot of pace and that will be our downfall. Hoping for a pacy young forward from the Permiership pool.
I watched a young Dele Alli run rings around us when he played for MK Dons whilst a Tottenham player. Someone like that would be fine.
Young star David Brooks coming on and causing problems up front and also in midfield will be a revelation to some. He lacks a little in the strength department but if you ever saw John “The Ghost” White play – well he looks the same. Won player of the tournament in Toulon for Young England earlier this year.
In midfield Paul Couts and Samir Carruthers both look as if they can hold their own. Of the defenders Jack O’ Connell is outstanding; Richard Stearman has loads of experience at this level and has performed well so far. Our 3-5-2 puts a lot of emphasis on positional sense and the three defenders (Basham is the other) seem to do well. Both Basham and O’Connell get forward as part of their general game and not just at free kicks. And then there is Ched Evans.
Did you welcome Ched Evans back?
He was finally found innocent, so to me that is the end of it. There will be some name calling from the opposition when he comes on and this will set our fans off with retaliating chants, So long as it stays like that it’ll be OK. His appearances so far have shown he has lost none of his beefiness. He was just getting into his stride when jailed. No doubt in my mind that his loss cost us promotion that season. We were one of the highest scoring teams in western Europe when we faltered.
Your best and worst moments as a supporter?
One thing about supporting the Blades – they are consistent. They always let you down. Highs are promotions – Darlington from the Fourth; up from the Third last season; away at Leicester to go into the Premier League. Hammering Wednesday 3-1 at Hillsborough. Lows? Dozens. Failure of three managers who ought to have done better – Weir, Robson, Adkins. And of course losing on Boxing Day to Wednesday.
The players who have given you most – and least – pleasure in your colours?
I watched Jagielka as a youngster and saw him mature into an England player. Least pleasure – Don Givens. No competition. For those of your readers not familiar with the story, he missed a last minute penalty against Walsall which sent us into the Fourth Division as was.
Tell us a little of your club’s association with culture – not forgetting When Saturday Comes and The Full Monty
We seem to be very media friendly at Bramall Lane and we were of course the very first United before a team from Stretford also took the name. The TV series starring Cherie Lunghi The Manageress was filmed at Bramall Lane in the main, and Dave Bassett had a camera with him the whole year when we were promoted to the Premier League.
That was fun in parts. There is a great museum at Bramall Lane – and it seems I missed many of the glory days at the turn of the 19th century. I was there for When Saturday Comes (the penalty scene was filmed at a half-time). Sean Bean has a Blades tattoo which say “100% Blade”. Rumour is that he had a flesh coloured plaster over it when performing in Lady Chatterley. One of my favourite actors Robert Carlyle wore a Blades shirt in The Full Monty. There is a wonderful local artist called Joe Scarborough who does great paintings of the local scene. I can’t afford an original but I do have a couple of prints of United related material including a limited edition print done for a promotion.
I think United are a very working-class club. I was at a game versus Forest a few years after the miners’ strike and as the Forest came out there was a huge cry of “scabs”. My friend, naively I thought, suggested we had long memories going back to the 1984 miners’ strike. I pointed out that that was for 1926.
Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish this season?
I don’t see Sunderland up there – sorry. Too much baggage from the relegation period. In fact I don’t see either of us there. So long as there are three teams below you including Wednesday of course and we are above you I suspect most fans will settle for that. I am looking to us to be around 12/14 in reality and no doubt you will be at that point too.
Thoughts on Sunderland – club, fans, city, region, Grayson?
I went out with a wonderful young lady from Sunderland but we were both living in Hull at the time so I never saw a lot of the town. I went to a couple of games at the old Roker – when we were visiting her parents.
Your fans seem to have been almost as hard done by as ours and the only games that guarantee wins are against Newcastle ! Your rivalry there is not quite as intense as ours – I suspect the proximity of both sets of supporters has something to do with that. We live and work with ours. Love the area and I have lots of friends up there. We visit often and have spent every New Year in the North East since 1969.
I have a lot of time for Grayson. He was hard done by at Leeds and he is a wise choice. I suspect the debt is strangling you and you will be selling Kone to help defray some of it and get the wages bill down to manageable proportions. (Written of course before transfer deadline day – Ed) In your position I reckon the parachute payments will disappear like snow off a wall.
You’ll be away for the match. How will you keep tabs and what do you think will be the score?
I am looking for a 2-1 win. I’ll be somewhere between New York and Chicago and on an overnight train so I shall be scanning for Wifi …
Dave Eyre on himself: my first Blades games was way back in 1959 when I reach the age of 16. I had supported Chesterfield until then, but my parents judged I was old enough at 16 to travel to Sheffield on my own. Work took me all around the country for a few years from 1962 onwards and I rarely got to see them. Came back to Sheffield just as Tony Currie was at his height and I was at Old Trafford stood right behind George Best as he scored a goal for our first defeat that season on our return to the old First Diivision They showed it for about two years as part of the opening sequence for Match of the Day. Been there through the doldrum years. I became a mature student and then college lecturer and actually taught footballers as YTS apprentices though few actually made it, Carl Bradshaw and Wayne Quinn being the most notable. My hobby is folk music and I had a live show on Community Radio for seven years. Whilst broacasting this live show I tried to mention Sheffield United as much as I could even if the Sheffield Wednesday folkies stopped listening. Happily married to the same woman since 1972 – though she is barred from football at Bramall Lane since a 0-0 league cup draw with Aldershot. Both my kids would call themselves Blades though they have never been to a game. It’s in the blood you see!
** Dave’s short explanation of the Champions league trophy moment: ‘photographed in Candas Asturia shortly after beating Manchester United’. The longer one: my wife and I were in Candas, Asturias. The cup was on display in the lobby area of a hotel and all the local children were having their picture taken with it – they all had Barca shirts apart from one cheeky monkey with a Real Madrid one. The four “heavies’ guarding it were happy to let anyone have their picture taken and there was no charge. They use it as an attraction for small scale soccer camps with Barca coaches and one of the coaches there reckoned that all they have to do is find one first team player and all the expenses of doing this are replayed. Not so far though.
Interview: Colin Randall